On January 27, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc urged the country’s provincial leaders and 96 million citizens to fight the coronavirus like they would fight “enemies.” While Trump’s move to declare himself a ‘wartime president’ during this health pandemic has been met with criticism in the U.S., the Vietnamese people have been receptive of their government’s militaristic rhetoric. Here, the reference to war calls to mind a story of resourcefulness deep-rooted in the country’s identity. As early as January, a BBC News article arguing how Vietnam’s weak health care system and low budget necessitates a rapid collective response and strict quarantining made its rounds on social media. Another piece published by Báo Thanh Niên (“Youth Newspaper”) outlining twelve regulations everyone should adhere to in Ho-Chi-Minh-City, the country’s southern metropole sizing up to New York City’s population, was shared more than 20 thousand times and liked around 65 thousand times on Facebook. In Vietnam, the news coverage has been marked by a prominent narrative: “Every citizen is a soldier fighting the disease.”
A viral propaganda poster by artist Hiep Le Duc points out how, during this time, social media is both a blessing and a curse: corona-related fake news is to be reported to the police while knowledge about individuals breaking isolation rules ought to be shared with the online community. Above these appeals, the poster reads “To stay home is to love your country.” As of yet, with only 270 cases of coronavirus infections and zero fatalities, despite sharing an 800-mile-long border with China, this motto has proven quite effective for Vietnam.
Jueni Duyen Tran is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia Journalism school researching the impact of digital disinformation on democracy as well as the public notion of truth.